Before I get into the list, I need to make one thing clear: some of the movies listed below are not science fiction or fantasy in a traditional sense, but are still part of one or both of those genres in some way.
With all that in mind, I present to you my list of the ten most gut-wrenching songs from science fiction and fantasy movies or television (in no particular order):
"Gentle Execution" from Battlestar Galactica, Season Three, by Bear McCreary
"Gentle Execution" is one of those songs that uses just the right combination of instruments and the right tempo to create an incredibly depressing feeling. It's also a perfect tune for hammering out sad scenes in your writing. It also helps to know that this song from BSG appears in an awful scene in which Saul Tigh has to kill his wife for collaborating with the Cylons.
"Time" from Inception, by Hans Zimmer
I've already written about "Time" in another context, but here I'd like to point out that the way the song builds up its layers produces tension and, for me, hits an emotional chord of sorts. I'm not sure how to describe it any better than that.
"The Surface of the Sun" from Sunshine, by John Murphy
For the same reason that I love "Time" and "Gentle Execution," so too do I love "The Surface of the Sun." The most depressing thing is that we had to wait for the longest time before they released the soundtrack; legal mumbojumbo and all that.
If you'd like to hear an alternate version containing a fan's addition of vocals, see here (yes, the alternate is quite good, too).
"Trinity Definitely" from Matrix Revolutions, by Don Davis
I'm going on the assumption that the primary instrument in this melody is an oboe, because it sounds like one to me. The oboe is one of those instruments that can only be played in two ways: so well that it sounds absolutely beautiful, and so awful that you want to kill yourself. In the case of this song, the oboe melody is so gorgeous and melancholy that one gets the impression that the best part of Matrix Revolutions wasn't the film itself, but the music (an opinion I actually hold).
"A Small Measure of Peace" from The Last Samurai, by Hans Zimmer
Say what you will about the movie (it's awesome, by the way), but the soundtrack is quite beautiful. "A Small Measure of Peace" is no exception. Zimmer knows his string instruments. See for yourself:
"A Way of Life" from The Last Samurai, by Hans Zimmer
There's a reason why two songs from the same soundtrack are on this list. I love "A Way of Life" for the same reason that I love "A Small Measure of Peace." Some of the same themes appear in this particular song, but the finale is intense (it's from an equally intense scene from the movie, which might be the only movie that I think Tom Cruise really belonged in outside of Top Gun).
"Into the West" from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, by Fran Walsh, Howard Shore, and Annie Lennox
There are few songs with lyrics that grip me in the same way as the non-lyric-based songs on this list do. "Into the West" (and one other song on this list) is an exception. The lyrics make sense when set against the movie and Annie Lennox sings it beautifully. Oh, and have I mentioned that I absolutely love the French horn? Yeah.
"Anakin's Betrayal" from Star Wars, Episode Three: Revenge of the Sith, by John Williams
John Williams is probably the best thing about the prequel Star Wars movies, and I wouldn't be the first to say so. "Anakin's Betrayal" hits me deep mostly because of the scene it comes from, which consists of Anakin killing children and Palpatine ordering the destruction of the Jedi. The music fits this moment perfectly. All you have to do is listen.
"Come What May" (Original Film Version) from Moulin Rouge, by David Baerwald and sung by Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman
Have you seen the movie? Then the song should make sense without me having to explain why it hits me deep. Just listen and remember the ending of the movie...
"Dumbledore's Farewell" from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by Nicholas Hooper
I didn't care for the movie, but Nicholas Hooper really hit the nail on the head with his music for the final scenes after Dumbledore's death. Brooding, increasingly melancholy, and just all around sad. If you haven't heard it, then here's your chance.
And that's it, folks. So, what are your favorite gut-wrenching songs from science fiction and fantasy films or TV shows? Let me know in the comments!